Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Review: Color ‘Red’ invigorating in Sturgeon Bay



The play is about Rothko, art, philosophy, philosophy of art as dictated by Rothko, fame, intellect, historic figures in art through the ages, the meaning of art as dictated by Rothko, Dionysus and Apollo, the importance of Rothko as determined by Rothko and a whole lot more brain-scrubbing stuff.

It’s quite a delightful workout without having to hit the gym. You just wend your way to Third Avenue Playhouse for a burst of invigorating exploration.


“Red” is one of those cases where you wonder, What owns this piece?

… Is it the writing?

… Is it the performance?

… Is it the subject matter?

I give it a dead heat.

+ John Logan’s script is incisive and provocative – no mere mortal stuff all around. He was the guy at the head of my class (so to speak) while I lolled around thinking regular things and being frustrated by textbook exercises.

+ Drew Brhel explodes all over the stage as Rothko, the dynamic abstract painter and Class A egotist. Brhel is an outstanding, knowing, dynamic actor, and “Red”/Rothko is another title/subject in his Ring of Honor. Wholly impressive. And Matt Frye ain’t too shabby, either, as an explosive, rapid-fire actor when push comes to shove between Rothko and his dutiful assistant.

+ Rothko, too. The guy is fascinating as seen doing his 9 to 5 thing in his windowless studio in the Bowery in 1958-’59. “Nature doesn’t work for me,” we’re informed. “Light’s no good. All the bugs.” Rothko of “Red” is well-read, well-traveled and narrow minded. When Ken, his assistant, chides him about not inquiring anything personal of him for two years, Rothko roars, “This is about me!” – and he means more than his studio space.

A key in all this is director Robert Boles, co-artistic director of the theater, who put all the pieces together – the play, the players and the necessities to make them work – and comes up with something superb. A product quite artistic happens in small-town Wisconsin.

Anybody who likes exposure to the mind of an artist – the free-falling, spinning, dazzle-brained thinking process – would savor “Red.” Brhel is icing on the cake.

Why the play is called “Red” has something to do with Rothko being identified with the color. But that color has so, so, so many meanings. A sequence in the play explores the variations of the color and at the same time reveals a modus operandi of the artistic mind. Wonderful.


You can see RED from now through July 22 at Third Avenue Playhouse in historic downtown Sturgeon Bay.  To read the full review by Warren Gerds of wearegreenbay.com, click here.